Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Multi-Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against Big Oil!

Thursday, August 1st, 2013
New Orleans, Louisiana


A lawsuit against Big Oil for environmental damage?  Are you kidding me?  Who could possibly have thunk it?  Why it’s almost blasphemous to challenge the oil industry in a state where oil revenue has been the mother’s milk for both campaign contributions and government spending for longer than anyone cares to remember.  Oh, sure, oil companies big and small have rarely received as much as a slap on the wrist for the extensive environmental damage that has been a significant factor down in Louisiana losing almost 2000 square miles of coastal land since the 1930s.  But now, it may be time to pay the piper for all those years of neglect.

Certainly, one cannot blame the massive land loss and environmental damage solely on the oil industry.  But over the past 70 years, by cutting through thousands of miles of Louisiana wetlands to reach valuable oil drilling locations, and then by digging pipeline canals, vast wetlands destruction took place.  In Louisiana, officials in charge of protecting these invaluable coastal wetlands have, in most cases, let the private sector off the hook and turned to government funding, both state and federal, in a weak attempt to reverse the damage. The state’s slogan cold well be, “quick to complain, but reluctant to aim at those who are responsible.”

But that attitude changed a bit in the past few days.  Under Louisiana law, the governor appoints a number of levee boards that are charged with the responsibility of protecting landowners from flooding up and down the Mississippi River, as well as throughout the wetlands.  And being appointed by the governor, they generally adhere to his biding.   A south Louisiana levee board, which is charged with protecting areas surrounding greater New Orleans, took the bold step of filing a multi-$billion lawsuit against 97 oil companies, operating throughout the state including BP, Mobile, and Exxon.

The lawsuit, filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, alleges, that “the oil network functions as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction -- killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water into fresh water areas.”  The filing further charged:  “What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing else is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner.”

So how is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appointed the various board members and who has received strong financial support from the oil industry, reacting?  “Livid” and “how dare they” would be cautious words.  He accused trial lawyers of “high jacking” the levee board, influencing them to file suit, called such legal action outrageous, and demanded the law suit be dismissed and the lawyers fired.  But levee board members say that this is a question of being responsible, and that they don’t plan to back down.  As board member and noted author (“Rising Tide”) John Berry says: “Like Pottery Barn, we just want them to fix what they broke.”
Oil has been the backbone of the south Louisiana economy for many years.   Louisiana was seduced by an outside industry full of vast economic promises. The money came in easily and there can be no dispute that many new jobs were created.  But there is a cost to the spoils of oil production, and this new lawsuit claims that this untold cost has not been nearly repaid.

Public officials have been too often lured by the financial temptations. A number of Louisiana politicians, including Gov. Huey Long in the 1930s and Plaquemines Parish dictator Leander Perez in the 1950s, made off like bandits by creating family controlled corporations, and awarding themselves public oil leases that made them hundreds of millions of dollars.  Oil company campaign cash has flowed into state and local political campaigns for decades.

Perez was particularly aloof from the public interest when he used his political clout to blackmail then Governor Earl Long back in the late 1940s to reject a federal-state split of off shore oil.  President Truman forged a compromise on the federal –state land dispute by offering Louisiana two thirds of all off shore oil out to a three mile boundary, then one third of all production from that point on out into the Gulf. Perez opposed the deal as his “vested interest” made him greedy, and Louisiana ended up receiving not one penny after a protracted battle all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The failure to take this settlement has cost Louisiana, by several studies, more than $500 billion (that’s billon with a “B”) in lost revenue.

Remember the 1953 movie Thunder Bay?   Jimmy Stewart plays an oil wildcatter who discovers oil in the Gulf.  When the locals rise up in arms, Stewart makes no bones about what they face.  “There’s oil under this Gulf.  We need it.  Everybody needs it.  Without oil, this country of ours would stop and start to die.  And you would die.  You die,” he tells the crowd.  “You can’t stop progress.  Nobody can.”
Stewart might have been right, but history tells us time and again that with resources and power there is responsibility.  Did Louisiana accept the riches of the land, but fail to demand that those who set the rules, those who govern, be good stewards of these bountiful resources?  Or did the state just stand by, pocket the money, and demand little in protection and environmental accountability?
Will the lawsuit prevail?  Probably not.  It will be hard to overcome the objections of Jindal who is so vehemently opposed to any legal effort that would hold the oil industry accountable.  In years past, the Bayou State made a deal with the Devil.  It would seem to be a good faith effort by the levee board to see that there is payback time.  But their task is daunting.
The fault really belongs at the feet of public officials, who for years failed to enforce the state’s environmental laws.  “O! I have ta’en too little care of this,” said Shakespeare’s King Lear. These words can easily be the epitaph of those in charge -- those politicians who made a bad environmental bet on the Bayou.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Does Television Influence Trials?

Thursday, July 25th, 2013
Perdido Key, Florida


Following the Zimmerman verdict, a number of legal and media voices, hollered, “enough is enough.”  Angered by the verdict, no more criminal trials on television, they said.  But the Constitution guarantees that trials are public and open to everyone.  And what could be more public than televising a criminal trial for the whole world to see?

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote last week that cameras should be taken out of the courtroom, particularly in high-profile trials.  She concludes:  “Our mighty respect for the public’s right to know -- has clouded our judgment.  There may be no way to quantitatively prove that cameras influence courtroom behavior and, possibly, a trial’s outcome. But anyone who’s ever sat in front of a camera knows that it is so.”

Now look, Ms. Parker.  The criminal justice system could use some help.  A majority of Americans feel that justice often doesn’t prevail.  A nationwide poll by the respected Rasmussen Reports, taken just before the Zimmerman verdict, found that only 45 percent of Americans feel that the justice system is fair.  Only 34 percent felt the system is fair to the poor.  That’s a lot of cynicism -- maybe more public trials would help the skeptics gain a little more confidence in a system where they feel that over half the time justice is not served.

America has a strong tradition of public trials. In early colonial America, courthouses were the centers of community life, and most citizens regularly attended criminal trials. In fact, trials frequently became community events. Citizens were knowledgeable about trials, and there was wide participation in the process -- especially in rural America, where trials were often scheduled on market day, when local farmers came to town for supplies.  Many courtrooms were built to accommodate 300 or more observers.

Back then, citizens closely observed the defendants, knew when judges issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand whenever justice was perverted. Whatever happened, the citizens were there, watching.  The court system belonged to them. The televising of criminal trials would merely be an extension of this direct review by the average citizen.

Would televising criminal trials create a circus atmosphere?  There's no reason to think that they would. In fact, many of our most sacred ceremonies, including church services and inaugurations, are televised without dignity lost.  Judge Burton Katz said it well:  “We should bring pressure to bear on all judges to open up their courtrooms to public scrutiny.  Members of the judiciary enjoy great entitlements and wield enormous power. They bear close watching by an informed public. I guarantee that the public would be amazed at what goes on in some court rooms.”

Back in 1997 when I was a practicing attorney in Louisiana, I participated in the state’s first televised trial before the Louisiana Supreme Court.  A state senator was opposing my efforts to impound the automobiles of uninsured drivers.  I was the Insurance Commissioner at the time, and represented the state in our effort to uphold the impoundment law. The issue was important to the vast majority of Louisianans, and they were entitled to hear the arguments, and watch the trial in progress.  No one pandered to the cameras, and the entire courtroom procedure was straightforward and dignified.  The proceedings were televised without a hitch,

Harvard law professor and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz put it this way: “Live television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system, and show it warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the right to see its institutions in operation, close-up.  Moreover, live television coverage generally brings out the best, not the worst in judges, lawyers and other participants.  The video camera helps to keep the system honest by keeping it open.”

In the Zimmerman trial, there were some complicated issues that needed explanation for both the jury and the public.  For example: Just what is meant by “Stand your Ground?”  How does this differ from self-defense?  When does an aggressor become a victim who can assert self defense?  Just what is a hate crime?  When one’s life is on the line, is it proper and fair to have only six people on a jury?  On what grounds can the Justice Department intervene in a state case?  What is “double jeopardy” and should it apply when Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state of Florida but is now being investigated by federal officials?

Because the Zimmerman trial was televised, a national debate has begun on whether the trial was fair, and just what laws involving violent crime and self protection should exist. Based on the widespread interest from the broadcasting of this trial, the President has called for a national debate on race.

America prides itself in being an open society that protects and encourages the public’s right to know.  Too often, courtrooms have become a bastion of secrecy where the public has little understanding of how the system works and how verdicts are reached.  The video camera serves as a check and balance.  We can better keep the system honest by keeping it open and easily available to the public.  Time to turn on the cameras.


“Because of the cameras in the courtroom, a trial presents the most pervasive public picture in history of how the justice system works, and how it fails.” Ronald Goldfarb

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

George Zimmerman and the Thought Police!

Thursday, 18th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


George Zimmerman was found not guilty this past weekend in his trial for shooting Travon Martin. But his problems are far from over.  You have to wonder whether there isn’t a perverted, almost paranoid sense of trying to “get” Zimmerman at any cost.  Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” and he would agree that the Zimmerman case is not going to fade away.  More criminal actions, civil suits, and endless analyses will be front and center, and continue the Zimmerman-Martin debate saga for a long time to come.

The case got off to a questionable start when the President felt it necessary to
announce that, "You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.”  The President’s comment implied to many that Trayvon Martin was a victim, who in no way compromised his innocence by his own actions in this tragedy.  He was in no way at fault, and was set upon by Zimmerman.  This, of course, could have prejudiced both the investigation as well as potential jurors.

The case was not taken before a grand jury, one that had been picked and was available at the time of the shooting.  It’s standard procedure all over America for similar cases involving violence to go before Grand Juries. Why not in the Zimmerman case?  Skeptics would argue that prosecutors assumed they could not get an indictment from a grand jury, and because of political pressures involved, went ahead and charged Zimmerman directly.

And then there was the old prosecutorial ploy – the withholding of evidence.  Just before the trial began, an employee of the prosecutor’s office who headed up the IT division testified that the prosecutors had withheld significant information from Zimmerman’s defense team.  And low and behold, two days after the verdict came in, he was fired.  Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Meara said other key evidence was withheld, and it was like pulling teeth to get the prosecutor’s office to cooperate, hand over the required information, and follow the law.  That will be another column for another day. Why do prosecutors fight so hard to keep exculpatory information from the defense?

Now we have learned that within hours of the verdict being rendered, the Justice Department announced that they would begin an investigation into the shooting to consider possible separate hate crime charges against Zimmerman.  So what’s a hate crime you ask?  If someone is premeditatedly shot and killed, that’s generally murder.  When you’re dead, you are dead, and there is a strong penalty for that; generally life or the death penalty.  But hate crime supporters want more than justice.  They want vengeance.

Under federal law, one can be charged with a hate crime if the crime was motivated by hatred involving race, religion, national origin, color or sexual preference.  Penalties for crimes against these groups already exist, but under the law such crimes are enhanced by what’s in the perpetrator’s mind.  So a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty, but now the federal prosecutors are considering bringing more changes for the exact same offense, in effect taking a second bite of the apple.  What ever happened to double jeopardy?  Simply put, they couldn’t get Zimmerman for his conduct, so now they want to go after him for his thoughts.  In the Four Lads song, Standing on The Corner, Watching All The Girls Go By, there is the lyric, “Brother, you can't go to jail For what you're thinking.” Well, in the case of hate laws, apparently you can.

Having deeply troubling concerns over a thought police is nothing new.  George Orwell’s novel, 1984 paints a disturbing and chilling scenario where one can be accused of a crime, arrested and prosecuted merely for thoughts in your mind.  “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed… the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime they called it… Sooner or later they were bound to get you.”

Have you ever gotten so mad and pent up that you went into a rage and said things you really didn’t mean?   “That sorry, no count blank, blank, blank, blank!  I’ll get even with him!” Have you ever used a racial slur? Oh, no, you say.  But then, upon reflection, maybe you did once or twice.  Does that make you a racist?

If there is supposed to be equal justice under the law, shouldn’t the punishment be based on the crime, and not on who the victim is?  If a deranged killer opens fire in a shopping mall, is this less of a crime than a maniac opening fire in a club filled with African Americans or gays?  Otherwise, when a life is taken, aren’t we making a determination that that the lives of one particular group have greater value than the lives of another group? Isn’t it a fundamental principle of a democracy that the punishment fits the crime, not the victim?

Ayn Rand wrote about the divisiveness that takes place when preferences are given under the law.  “There is no sure way to infect mankind with hatred – brute, blind, virulent hatred – than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes.”

Freedom in America means the freedom to have bad thoughts.  I may not like what you are thinking, but ideas alone should not be a crime.  A criminal should be punished for bad acts, not bad thoughts.  James Madison said it well:  “We have extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making the laws for the human mind.”

When it comes to crime, there should be a protected class that gets full protection from the criminal justice system.  That protected class should be all Americans.  And all Americans should be treated equally.


Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fighting the Civil War All Over Again?

Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Our friends up north need to let it go.  According to a cross section of northern commentators, the Second Reconstruction may be over, but they think a third one may be necessary.  The first came with the demise of the South following the Civil War.  The second began a century later when the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965.  But this is no longer the ’60s, and the Supreme Court, with whom I often disagree, got this one right.  The South can finally be treated like everyone else.  And this apparently makes a good number of our northern friends, particularly on the east coast, disgruntled.

Consider the Washington Post’s take in an Op Ed by their columnist Harold Meyerson. He suggests that, “Underpinning all this was the virulent racism of the white Southern establishment.”  But he’s just warming up.  He goes on to say:  “If the federal government wants to build a fence that keeps the United States safe from the danger of lower wages and poverty and their attendant ills – and the all around fruitcakery of the right wing white South – it should build the fence from Norfolk to Dallas. There is nothing wrong with the fence as long as you put it in the right place.”

This kind of attitude goes much further than just having a problem with voiding the Voting Rights Act. When you refer to Southerners as fruitcakes, and suggest a border to keep them in their place, it reflects a weird desire for sectionalism, and a long tired grudge to keep re-fighting the Civil War.  Look, we down here acknowledge that the South lost the war.  Oh, it was close, and bull-headed politicians on both sides caused over one million solders to die.  But that was then, and most of the South has let it go. But it appears that many in the North still have trouble with it.

Sure there are racial issues to deal with.  To many observers, who’s to be believed in the Travon Martin-George Zimmerman case comes down to black and white.  Remember the racial breakdown in the O.J. Simpson trial out in California?   Polls showed it to be 90-10.  Overwhelmingly, whites thought Simpson was guilty.  Over 90% of African-Americans believed he was innocent.  I can remember watching split TV screens showing African-American groups cheering, and rooms full of whites shaking their heads in disgust.  Racial issues and unrest are still realities all over America.

You can’t fully pick up on attitudes and prejudices in a large city by visiting it for only a few days. But spend several months in New York City, as I did last winter, and over several months of daily interaction, you pick up on attitudes and prejudices.  Profiling is a way of life in the Big Apple.  Police officers regularly stop and frisk by observation, and it is primarily black and Latinos who get searched.  An Arab with a headpiece generally gets a second look by many passersby.  The city is a melting pot, but ethnic background plays a role in what schools and clubs many families are allowed to attend and join.  No, this is not the South.  This is America.
As I travel throughout the country, I’m still somewhat surprised by the stereotypes of southern living held by a good number of those folks living above the Mason-Dixon Line.  Oh, we have our share of Good Ol’ Boys, and I do tell my share of redneck jokes.  I miss George Jones, I like country music, and I do drink Dixie Beer.  But the South is not all Bubbas and banjos.  Well, all right, I do play the banjo and my doctor’s name is Bubba. But a number of northern opinions reflect the South as being outside what is considered to be the American norm.

Many non-southerners form an opinion of the whole South from movie stereotypes like Steel Magnolias, Sweet Home Alabama, and last year's hit, The Help.  TV hits like the Dukes of Hazard, Mayberry, and the Beverly Hillbillies created impressions that will stick with viewers from Boston to San Francisco for a lifetime.  And who can forget Deliverance?  University of Tulsa cultural studies professor Robert Jackson says that the film is "powerful and pernicious.  It's had a tenacious hold on people's imaginations, establishing the hillbilly as a kind of menacing, pre-modern, medieval kind of figure."  There’s a great deal of nostalgia about an earlier way of southern life and romantic notions about southern life today. Sure we love to watch and re-watch Gone with the Wind.  But so do millions, not just all over the U.S., but all over the world.

Numerous writers migrated to New Orleans to find their creative juices.  Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. Food?  You can have New York and San Francisco.  I’ll take Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, John Besh and a host of other Southern restaurateurs any day.  And at half the northern price.  Maybe, just maybe, there is some envy about a culture that seems to produce an inordinate number of “rednecks” who are talented, creative, and so successful that it puts the rest of the country to shame.

Let’s not even talk about sports.  Start with SEC football, led by LSU and Alabama. Kentucky is listed as pre season number one in basketball.  The list in other sports shows vast southern dominance. Nuff said.  Jazz, the blues and country music were born in the South.  Did you know that America’s first opera house was in the New Orleans French Quarter?  And what about American patriotism and commitment?  47% of all the U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan were from the South.

Not only can the South be eloquently defended, there’s a case to be made for southern exceptionalism.  Sure there are continuing problems to be worked out, just as there are all over America. And maybe there is a case for reconstruction.  Not because the south wants to “rise again.”  No, it’s a reconstruction of bigoted and outdated northern attitudes that have held both north and south back for many years.  You folks up north take care of your “fruitcake” comments, and we’ll do our best to handle Paula Dean.  Oh, and can you pass the grits and biscuits?


We say grace, and we say ‘ma’am,’  If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn.”
—Hank Williams, Jr., Country singer

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at